By Robert Brown
West Coast Power Cat 36 Twin Vee Pilothouse: Building a Dream Machine
Inside the making of the perfect surfing photography powerboat.
It all started on January 15, 2006 when I missed a turn while driving in San Diego. I was on my way to meet the Powerboat magazine staff to deliver photos from a recent shoot. That missed turn cost me a ton of time and money, because it led me directly to West Coast Power Cats. There I discovered a 36-foot-long catamaran that, before the moment I saw it, I did not know existed.
I was spellbound. I did three laps around the boat in the car with my assistant and fellow photographer, Scott Winer.
“I think I am going to have to get one of these for next winter,” I told him.
Winter, you see, is everything to me when it comes to big-wave surf photography. That’s when the waves, fueled by violent storms in the Gulf of Alaska, get huge off the West Coast. And that’s when I need a boat that can get me to some pretty hairy surf spots, the most extreme of these being 100 miles west—that’s right, west—of San Diego. The place is called Cortes Bank, and I have photographed surfers there riding waves as tall as 80 feet.
Obsession took over and I received 36′ Twin Vee pilothouse model from West Coast Power Cats in June 2006. I had the boat equipped with two Mercury 275 Verado outboard engines, which since their release have earned an outstanding reputation for reliability, performance and efficiency in the offshore world.
To haul my boat, I had AB Trailers in North Hollywood build a custom, heavy-duty triple- axle aluminum “Cat” trailer. Just towing the boat requires a wide-load permit, thanks to its 11’10″ beam. Ah, the price you pay for open deck space.
For graphics, I turned to OC Autowraps in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. I knew I had the right company for this project when I said, “Make me a 36′ long sticker that covers the entire length of the hull,” and they didn’t flinch.
The installer at OC Autowraps did such a great job that most people who’ve seen the boat think its graphics are either done in paint or gelcoat—you cannot find a bubble or wrinkle in it.
Before piloting the boat in the open ocean, I wanted to take it on a mellow “shakedown” run. What better place than Lake Havasu, Ariz., since the kids had just started their summer break? I have to admit, the Twin Vee looked pretty out of place next to all the custom Havasu hot rods on the water, but at least the kids got to go swimming and tubing. More to the point, I got to take my new baby for a test ride. And I couldn’t have been happier.
After the Lake Havasu trip, it was time to have a photo tower installed on the boat. As I have in the past, I turned to Pacific Yacht Towers in San Marcos, Calif. The company designed and built a custom tower with an upper driving station that drops down for towing. Design and welding of this unique piece of hardware is simply phenomenal. It doesn’t get any better—and I’ve seen quite a few photo towers.
The tower also includes a custom-built, hinged radar support that makes it easy for me to flip down the big Raymarine open-array antenna down for towing. I prefer powder-coating over the anodized-aluminum look, so as usual I went to Olympic Powder Coating in Santa Ana, Calif. At Olympic, they double-coat every piece of hardware and it always looks flawless.
With the tower in place, my next step was to rig the upper station and upper driving station. Much of the work I do myself—having owned seven boat—and that almost always turns out to be more time-consuming and tricky than I plan it to be. This time around, I was in for a pleasant surprise.
One of the reasons I went with the Mercury Verado engines is because of their fly-by-wire throttle systems. Their smoothness of operation is unrivaled. But having never rigged a Mercury outboard, I turned to some old friends at Maurer Marine in Costa Mesa, Calif., who had helped me with some warranty issues on my past engines. With their help and Verado system, the Twin Vee turned out to be the easiest boat I have ever rigged in terms of access to pulling areas and wire routing.
Installing electronic was another huge, time-consuming part of this project. Yet it all went remarkably well.
Layout of all the pieces was fairly easy. I cut in all the electronics using all the templates that the companies provide with the installation instructions.
Once I had the electronics installed, I found just the right expert, Outbound Yacht Service in Dana Point, Calif., to set them up and integrate the systems. They hooked up the big Raymarine E120 monitor with depth sounder and 72-mile radar as well as an E80 up top. Other electronics include Raymarine autopilot, Icom VHF and a stereo with a DVD player and Sirius Satellite radio. The big bonus is that I have been loaned an FLIR (forward looking infrared) Thermo Vision Mariner for nighttime vision.
I have just started testing the night-vision system and it is amazing. You can see things in pitch-black conditions as if it is daytime. God forbid anyone should ever fall overboard, but if they did you would be able to find them much more easily with Thermo Vision Mariner, which I’ll have on anytime it is foggy or dark out. And the system’s pan and tilt capabilities are amazing.
Thanks to Kawasaki, my boat carries an amazing 15F four-stroke Jet Ski watercraft. Seagate Electronics also provided support in the form of their portable hard drives and digital compact flash cards.
The Twin Vee is my first “enclosed” cockpit boat and I am thoroughly enjoying being warm for the first time ever while boating in California. Open center-console models are awesome, but this boat provides a lot of windows to open or drive from upstairs if the weather allows. Come January in the fog 100 miles offshore, I know I’ll appreciate being inside.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the seventh boat I have owned and I think I am set for quite some time. One of my goals for this boat is to use it as a platform to photograph the first 90- to 100-foot wave ever ridden by a surfer. Surfline.com owner Sean Collins, a good friend, and I believe the first wave of that size will be ridden at Cortes Bank. No doubt, that shot would bag me another first-place finish (I’ve been lucky enough to win it twice) in the Billabong XXL big-wave surf/photography competition. But although I appreciate the contest, the real lure is just to be there and capture history.
With Twin Vee, I’ll be ready to go when the big one rolls in.
Editor’s note: Robert Brown’s credits include photography for Surfer magazine, Surfing magazine and Powerboat magazine.